Musicals take center stage at Frameline 35
FRAMELINE It may be summer break for America's favorite Slushee-barraged show choir, but judging by the array of song-and-dance numbers in this year's San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, Glee fever continues to spike. Half of the fest's showcase films celebrate the power of the performing arts, including Mangus!, about a young man's against-all-odds dream of playing the lead in his high school's production of Jesus Christ Spectacular. Leading Ladies features a mother-daughter-daughter trio immersed in the world of competitive ballroom dancing. And the shorts roster offers no less than three musicals — the Australian films Slut: The Musical and Cupcake: A Zombie Lesbian Musical hail, naturally, from the program "Zombies, Aussies, Musicals, Oh My!," while Who's the Top? explores a relationship's diminished sexual undercurrents through musical comedy. Directed by Jennie Livingston, Who's the Top? is paired with Paris Is Burning (1990), Livingston's acclaimed full-length documentary on the late-1980s ball scene in New York City.
The on-and-off-stage drama continues with Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together, a tale of thespians, best friends, and housemate tension rooted more in unvoiced amour than in chore wheels and whose turn it is to buy toilet paper. As the title's Chicago-dwelling characters negotiate Jamie's imminent departure for the Big Apple and (she hopes) Broadway, a few wistful tunes are crooned, accompanied by the occasional step-ball-change, but the songs feel somewhat opportunistically tacked on, and the film's strength lies more in its exploration of that foggy, foggy gray area between the romance of intimate friendship and the romance of ripping the clothes off of someone you really care about.
The tweens of Spork show slightly more promise, at least when it comes to working the dance floor at a nightclub unaverse to letting in 13-year-olds. Spork — so nicknamed by her burnout but well-meaning brother due to her intersex status — is shy, awkward, and isolated at school — when not being tortured by a clique of tiny, racist mean girls led by a Britney Spears wannabe named Betsy Byotch. The answer, clearly, is to best the Byotch in a high-stakes middle-school dance-off — for if we've learned one thing from Glee and every high school musical and dance-ical pumped out by Hollywood in the past few decades, it's that community can be found through soaring vocal harmonies, choreographed ass-shaking, and following one's dreams.
This lesson is perhaps best exemplified by Leave It on the Floor, which updates (and fictionalizes) the drag and tranny ball scene of Paris Is Burning, transports it to the warehouses of South Central L.A., and adds some infectious music and lyrics (the song "Justin's Gonna Call" is particularly likely to stay trapped in your brain for days). Leave It's kicked-to-the-curb protagonist, Brad, is equally in need of community and a place to crash, and he finds both (after a fashion) in the House of Eminence, the reigning underdog of the ball scene, proudly populated by outcasts and freaks — as well as a hot dueting partner, queer family, and a closing-number set of runway moves that nearly set a warehouse ballroom on fire and probably won't be coming to a show choir competition near you anytime soon.
FRAMELINE 35: SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL LGBT FILM FESTIVAL
June 16–26, most films $9–$15